Analysis: Amended Code of Conduct Reduces Formidable Opposition to Incumbents in Elections

MONROVIA – The Liberian Senate concurred with the House of Representatives on September 16, 2022 to enact a bill amending Section 5.2 and Section 10.2 of the 2014 Code of Conduct. If approved by the President of Liberia, this change to Section 5.2 of the Code of Conduct will oblige numerous Weah-government officials to retire by Friday, October 7, 2022, if they wish to run or canvass for elected offices in the October 2022 elections.

Although it has serious ramifications for the political process in Liberia, this Act, which was passed on the final day of the Senate’s Special Session, has gotten little public attention. Some have questioned whether the law’s passage at the eleventh hour or without any public discussion or review was not a cunning attempt to pass it.

Political and legal analysts say that there are many issues with this bill that should have prevented its passage and that President George Manneh Weah of Liberia should now veto it so as to avoid future political crises.

In addition to section 5.2 of the amended act, which required the resignation of those who not only wish to run for office but also wish to canvass for elected officials, the Act states that “any minister, deputy minister, assistant minister, director general, deputy director general, assistant director general, Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, and any other official of the Government of Liberia appointed by the President of Liberia pursuant to Article 5 of the Constitution shall resign.”

Aside from the fact that it was enacted through a ‘Nikodemic’ approach, analysts see four key issues with this law. The first issue is that the law requires people to “resign their posts in order to be eligible to canvass for elected offices.” By requiring people to relinquish their employment in order to canvass, the rule restricts even government officials and employees who just want to help their chosen politicians by campaigning for them. This implies that many Weah-led Government officials will be barred from campaigning for President Weah’s re-election.

The second criticism leveled against the law is that it covers too many individuals, both named and unnamed. This means that even government employees will be required to resign. The Act states that ‘any other official of the Government of Liberia who negotiates and executes contracts, procures goods and services and/or manages assets for and on behalf of the Government of Liberia, and who desires to contest for an elective office within the Government of Liberia, shall resign his/her position at least one (1) year (or twelve (12) calendar months) prior to the date of the election for the post for which he/she intends to run. There are a significant number of personnel who “negotiate and execute contracts, buy products and services, and/or manage assets for and on behalf of the Government of Liberia.” This covers both Presidential and non-Presidential appointees, as well as civil workers. If individuals in this category resign, you should expect a mass exodus from the government.

The third issue that some analysts have with this rule is that it hinders competition, which is vital to the functioning of our democratic system. Legislators who are now in office have attempted for a very long time to enact legislation prohibiting citizens from opposing them. These types of laws are detrimental to the public interest because incumbent politicians will not be encouraged to work harder and in the best interest of their constituents if they are able to prevent a large number of formidable rivals from running against them.

The fourth issue that individuals have with this law is its lack of timeliness. Some believe that requiring someone to quit within one week and remain unemployed [unless employed in the private sector] for one year prior to an election is excessively harsh. One citizen wondered how incumbent legislators could continue in their posts until the election while passing legislation requiring their opponents to be unemployed for a year prior to the election. There is concern that a mass resignation now would cripple the government, as it relies on all of its top personnel to stay on the job and deliver for the President’s re-election. So, is this a ruse to suffocate President Weah?

Those who support the law think that it will prevent corruption because people in positions of power will utilize their positions to fund campaigns. But the point is, if people commit corruption and use the money for elections, is it any worse than if the proceeds of the crime were utilized for non-campaign purposes? The main message is that corruption is wrong. As a result, everything possible must be done to prevent people from abusing their positions to take things that do not belong to them.

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